Misperceptions of facial emotions among youth aged 9-14 years who present multiple antecedents of schizophrenia.


Similar to adults with schizophrenia, youth at high risk for developing schizophrenia present difficulties in recognizing emotions in faces. These difficulties might index vulnerability for schizophrenia and play a role in the development of the illness. Facial emotion recognition (FER) impairments have been implicated in declining social functioning during the prodromal phase of illness and are thus a potential target for early intervention efforts. This study examined 9- to 14-year-old children: 34 children who presented a triad of well-replicated antecedents of schizophrenia (ASz), including motor and/or speech delays, clinically relevant internalizing and/or externalizing problems, and psychotic-like experiences (PLEs), and 34 typically developing (TD) children who presented none of these antecedents. An established FER task (ER40) was used to assess correct recognition of happy, sad, angry, fearful, and neutral expressions, and facial emotion misperception responses were made for each emotion type. Relative to TD children, ASz children presented an overall impairment in FER. Further, ASz children misattributed neutral expressions to face displaying other emotions and also more often mislabeled a neutral expression as sad compared with healthy peers. The inability to accurately discriminate subtle differences in facial emotion and the misinterpretation of neutral expressions as sad may contribute to the initiation and/or persistence of PLEs. Interventions that are effective in teaching adults to recognize emotions in faces could potentially benefit children presenting with antecedents of schizophrenia.